KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 — Australian senator Nick Xenophon said today that his deportation from Malaysia yesterday revealed how “dire and critical” the state of Malaysian democracy was.
The independent lawmaker was also quoted by Australian media as saying that his deportation was a “big mistake” as it had backfired on Putrajaya.
“But if it means more Australians in the region are aware of how dire and critical the state of Malaysian democracy is and how Malaysian democracy is at the crossroads, then that unambiguously is a good thing,” Xenophon was quoted today as saying by Australia’s national broadcaster ABC News.
“Australia and Malaysia are the greatest of friends. This shouldn’t affect the relationship but I think if the Malaysian government thought that they were doing the smart thing, I think it spectacularly backfired on them,” he added.
Xenophon also said that Australia had a moral obligation to intervene in the coming Election 2013 to ensure that it was clean and fair, despite the polls having a “veneer of democracy”, according to Australian newspaper Herald Sun.
“Millions of Malaysians see Australia as a shining beacon of democracy in the region and seek our help for independent election observers,” he said.
Australia’s former prime minister Kevin Rudd has condemned Xenophon’s detention as unacceptable and urged Canberra to be “robust” in response.
Xenophon arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning to call on Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, de facto law minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz and Election Commission (EC) officials next week, but was detained at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang and subsequently deported late at night.
Xenophon was to review the country’s electoral system with a delegation of other Australian MPs and senators that would arrive later, but his colleagues have cancelled the trip in response to his deportation.
Immigration Department director-general Datuk Alias Ahmad said yesterday that Xenophon was deported and barred from entering Malaysia under the Immigration Act 8(3) because the senator had made statements that allegedly tarnished Malaysia’s image.
Alias highlighted Xenophon’s remarks about the Malaysian government being “authoritarian” in handling last April’s Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections.
In Xenophon’s observation of the rally, he noted that the police had fired tear gas and chemical-laced water in what had been a largely peaceful protest.
His comments were also laid down in the final report of a fact-finding mission on elections in Malaysia as part of an international polls observer group that included six others, including representatives from neighbouring Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Germany.
Xenophon said today that the immigration authorities had called him a “security risk”.
“But it seems the only risk I am is to embarrassing the Malaysian government because of my advocacy for clean elections in Malaysia,” he said, according to ABC News.
Xenophon’s detention and deportation have raised the ire of several Malaysians, including electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians.
Bersih 2.0 co-chair Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan lambasted Xenophon’s deportation as a move that showed the government’s “paranoia” about the coming national polls.
Anwar called it a “gross abuse of power” that violated international protocol in treating international lawmakers, especially those from the Commonwealth.
Several other Twitter users joined Ambiga in raining scorn on the government’s decision, with the subject spawning a hashtag #xenophon.
The Election Commission (EC) however has defended the lawmaker’s deportation, saying that immigration authorities were merely performing their duty.
EC deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar added that it was unjust to judge the fairness of Election 2013, which must be called by April, based on Xenophon’s expulsion.